In Support of Mispronounciations

My friend is a ball of paradoxes. He is as annoying as he is considerate, as lazy as he is driven, and messy as he is fastidious. Sometimes he uses my dishes without asking and doesn’t wash them for weeks, and other times he hugs me for no reason and tells me that he loves me. Hopefully, this latter act is heartfelt, and not just an act so that I will forgive him for the former transgression. For my own sanity and self-confidence, I’m going to go on believing his demonstrated affection comes from the heart. But one of the strangest contradictions I’ve observed my friend has to do not with his personality, but with his speech.

My friend can argue anyone into a corner with his flawless logic, strong word choice, and feisty debating attitude. Unfortunately, his effectiveness is somewhat compromised by a bizarre tendency to mispronounce words, the likes of which I’ve never experienced in any other native English speaker. Since our freshman year, I’ve been compiling a running list of all the words I’ve ever heard him pronounce incorrectly, and so far, there are more than fifty words on that list. New ones get added nearly every week, and one day I aspire to put them all together in an epic crossword puzzle that would make even Will Shortz jealous.

Some of his mispronunciations are understandable. For example, unless you were Jewish, which he is not, you probably wouldn’t know that “challah” is pronounced with an “h” sound at the beginning, and not a “ch” sound. Similarly, “endeavor” is not a very commonly spoken word, and “on-DEH-vore” is a decent guess at how it might be said if you had previously only seen it written.

Some of my friend’s mistakes, however, are completely incomprehensible. How you can get to college without ever hearing the words “emergency,” “addict,” “internship,” and “chic” spoken aloud, I don’t know. Somehow, though, my friend never had, because according to him, these words are pronounced “em-er-GEN-cee,” “uh-DICT,” “in-TERN-ship,” and “chick.” My friend is also very passionate about music and spends a lot of time on the internet, so I don’t understand how he could possibly think that “Kanye” is pronounced “can-YEE.”

When I call him out on his mispronunciations, his response is always the same. “Really? That’s how it’s said? That’s so ugly. My way sounds better.” Sometimes, I agree with him. Naiveté sounds even more sophisticated when it’s pronounced “nye-ee-vet.” Moreover, I will admit that he has never mutilated a word so badly that it’s impossible to tell what he meant. I have to ask myself, therefore, what purpose constantly correcting him is serving. Sure, it might save him some modicum of embarrassment in the future, but more than not, his mistakes are funny and endearing rather than humiliating. So am I really helping him by pointing out his mistakes? Or am I gradually robbing him of this weird, wonderful language that he has created for himself?

After all, my friend does have an incredible sense of optimism. His life has not been easy, and he has constantly been forced to find the positives in difficult situations. Perhaps his tendency to mispronounce words is simply another way in which he subconsciously alters things in his mind to make them a little less ugly and a little more beautiful. If this is the case, this is an ability that I should admire and support. I should stop laughing at him when he makes a mistake, and recognize that what he’s doing might have deeper implications that aren’t laughable at all.


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